Relatives of a mentally ill man who died two days after a Gretna police officer Tased him inside a food store in February are preparing a lawsuit against the Police Department, their attorney said Friday.

Lawyer Michael Oppenheimer said that relatives of Kendole Joseph will sue the department over his death, which came two days after a struggle with police on Feb. 7.

The Gretna Police Department is leading the investigation into Joseph’s death, with the assistance of the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office.

Oppenheimer said a "cover-up" in the case began when Gretna police failed to issue a news release about the death of Joseph, a paranoid schizophrenic who family members said was in the middle of a mental health episode.

Can't see the video below? Click here.

 

"There was a death in custody, and no one was notified. And so that begins the Gretna Police Department cover-up. The cover-up continues through today, when they will not release the video," Oppenheimer said. "The police chief has said that they did nothing wrong, that everything was cool. If it was so cool and they did nothing wrong, then release that video."

A major bone of contention is the video of the struggle from the surveillance system at the Save A Dollar store, where Joseph struggled with police before his death. Investigators seized the entire video system after the incident, Gretna Deputy Police Chief Anthony Christiana said. He said the video will be made available once the investigation is finished.

A Feb. 14 autopsy did not identify a cause of death for Joseph, according to the Jefferson Parish Coroner’s Office.

Christiana said police are still awaiting the results of toxicology and other tests before they finish their investigation.

Joseph had a previous encounter with police in July, his mother Debra Guillory said. She said he was Tased after he called police for help. Joseph suffered kidney damage and was hospitalized for weeks after that encounter, she said.

Relatives believe that the use of the Taser on Joseph a second time — on Feb. 7 — contributed to his death.

An initial police report gives a brief overview of what authorities say happened.

It says officers were notified of a “suspicious person” who “was observed acting erratically” in the 900 block of Gretna Boulevard. Responding officers approached Joseph, who fled on foot, according to the report.

Joseph then ran inside the Save A Dollar store, where he “began to physically resist arrest by striking officers and refusing to comply with verbal commands,” the report says.

Police said that Joseph continued to resist during the struggle, “which forced one officer to utilize his Taser in an attempt to take Mr. Joseph into custody.”

Joseph “continued to resist and scream” until he was carried to the rear seat of a police vehicle, where he “was observed to be unresponsive and not breathing,” police said.

He was taken to Ochsner Medical Center's West Bank Campus, where he died Feb. 9.

Meanwhile, WVUE-TV reported that the New Black Panther Party could mount a protest over Joseph's death on Saturday. The Southern Poverty Law Center describes that group as “a virulently racist and anti-Semitic organization whose leaders have encouraged violence against whites, Jews and law enforcement officers.”

Oppenheimer said the family was not involved in planning that protest, if it occurs.

Christiana said officers are monitoring to see whether a protest does occur.

“Whichever way it goes, we’re prepared to handle any matter that arises,” he said.

Follow Matt Sledge on Twitter, @mgsledge.

msledge@theadvocate.com | (504) 636-7432